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Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life

Ashley Whillans. Harvard Business Review, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-63369-835-2

Whillans, a professor of negotiations, organizations, and markets at Harvard Business School, explores in her insightful debut ways to shift one’s perspective away from making money and toward prioritizing one’s time. Whillans uses the terms “time rich” and “time poor” to measure how much time a person has created in their daily routine for things that matter to them. Asking readers to “calculate trade-offs between time and money, and see that many of the decisions we make are suboptimal,” Whillans cautions against “time traps”—such as spending too much time on the internet, habitually checking email, or reflexively saying “yes” to invitations—that prevent one away from using time to its fullest potential. She recommends questions for finding one’s time management “default setting,” documenting the use of one’s time, and “hacking work time” by working from home and roping together necessary but unfulfilling activities. She also shares strategies such as listening to audiobooks during commutes to increase study time, and budgeting which chores to outsource to third-party services. (Granted, many of the tips will need to be reevaluated for a post-covid world.) Anyone looking for novel strategies to make better use of their time will love this. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Everyday Chaos: The Mathematics of Unpredictability, from the Weather to the Stock Market

Brian Clegg. MIT, $29.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-262-53969-2

Science writer Clegg (What Do You Think You Are?) delivers a typically intriguing guide to the mathematical study of chaos and its real-world applications. Clegg discusses concepts important to the field, such as feedback and emergence, where “new abilities emerge spontaneously from [a] complex system,” as occurs when non-living molecules combine to create living organisms. He offers plenty of examples from everyday life, including time-keeping, weather forecasts, and traffic patterns, and in science, such as the study of “superorganism” species like army ants and wasps whose colonies behave as collective entities. Along the way, Clegg dispels several popular misconceptions, such as the “butterfly effect” of an insect’s wing triggering a hurricane (the mathematician who first described this hypothetical scenario then emphatically answered “no” to the possibility of it occurring) and the truism “that no two snowflakes are alike” (many simple snowflake shapes are identical; what’s remarkable are the vast number of possible shapes that can occur). He also includes a timely section on vaccination data, explaining how inoculation programs can, counterintuitively, lead to temporary increases in reported infections, because introducing a “sudden, strong change” into a system can make it chaotic. This mind-bending intellectual ride will appeal to readers of Eugenia Cheng and Alberto Cairo. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Ever Smaller: Nature’s Elementary Particles, From the Atom to the Neutrino And Beyond

Antonio Ereditato, trans. from the Italian by Erica Segre and Simon Carnell. MIT, $34.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-262-04386-1

Ereditato, director of the University of Bern’s Laboratory for High Energy Physics, makes his English language debut with this challenging and fulfilling foray into particle physics. He discusses plenty of esoteric equations, difficult concepts such as the Planck constant and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and a dizzying array of the fundamental particles central to quantum interactions. This last category includes quarks (named from a line in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake), hadrons, neutrinos, and the Higgs boson, or “God particle.” Ereditato cannily dramatizes these hard-to-picture objects with descriptions of the experiments and impressive apparatus that led to their discovery. Of special interest is the Higgs boson’s discovery via the CERN accelerator, “thousands of superconducting magnets installed around a vacuum tube... 100 meters below ground in the beautiful countryside between Lake Leman and the Jura mountains in Switzerland” capable of propelling particles at nearly the speed of light. These more accessible sections, however, don’t alleviate the difficulty of the equations that, by necessity, appear throughout. Curious, committed readers with the fortitude required to plow through difficult mathematical and conceptual discussions will find Ereditato’s work rewarding. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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China’s Muslims and Japan’s Empire: Centering Islam in World War II

Kelly A. Hammond. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-4696-5965-7

Hammond, professor of East Asian History at the Univ. of Arkansas, debuts with an illuminating overview of Japan’s overtures during WWII to minority Muslim communities in Asia as a nation-building tactic. Beginning with the occupation of North China in 1937, the Japanese government attempted to build a network of loyalists who could maintain trade networks, practice diplomacy, and voice political support. Focusing mostly on Chinese-speaking Muslims—with occasional examinations of Tatar, Afghan, and Filipino Muslims—Hammond provides key context about the justifications for Japan’s outreach (such as fabricated shared historical connections) while also showcasing the successful establishment of markets between Japan and Sino-Muslim communities, who had to chose to either collaborate with or resist the Japanese occupation. Hammond’s observations on the “incredible diversity among Muslim communities and Islamic practices throughout Asia” provide an eye-opening departure from the more common, Western-oriented perspectives on WWII in Asia, and counters the stereotypes of Japan and China as internally homogenous nations with single schools of thought. Though the prose is occasionally dry, Hammond’s thorough research will illuminate lay readers and scholars alike. This is an excellent and important addition to the WWII history shelf. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Wolf Island: Discovering the Secrets of a Mythic Animal

L. David Mech, with Greg Breining. Univ. of Minnesota, $24.95 (184p) ISBN 978-1-5179-0825-6

In this enjoyable if somewhat slim scientific memoir, wildlife biologist and photographer Mech recalls his early efforts at “wolf-moose fieldwork” in Isle Royale National Park, a 45-mile-long island in northern Lake Superior. He recalls it as a fascinating place, “an isolated wilderness world” where as a “new, enthusiastic” Purdue University grad student he researched interactions between the park’s wolf populations and moose in order to understand the dynamics between predator and prey. He was also interested specifically in wolf packs, and researched “how far they traveled, how they hunted, [and] whether they could live on a variety of foods.” Over the study’s three years, between 1958 and 1961, Mech made significant strides in understanding both species on their own and in relation to each other by “hiking hundreds of miles on trails in summer” and “flying hundreds of hours over the island in winter.” He observed a “rough equilibrium” between the two populations, and came to see the wolves as a positive contributor to the island’s ecosystem, helping transform the previous overwhelmingly negative views of wolves as rapacious predators and strengthening the case for their preservation. Nature lovers will enjoy Mech’s mix of reminiscence and zoological insight. 30 color photos. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies For Women in the Workplace

David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson. Harvard Business Review, $30 (272p) ISBN 978-1-63369-872-7

As long as gender inequality is a “women’s issue,” men aren’t going to feel any responsibility to fix it—and that has to change, write assistant sociology professor Smith and psychology professor Johnson (co-authors, Athena Rising) in this persuasive call to arms. They address “good guys,” or male would-be allies who want to help end workplace gender inequities but don’t know what to do, and provide simple instructions, including ready responses to sexist jokes (“Not cool” or “We don’t do that here,” among others) and questions to ask oneself to help gauge a meeting’s inclusivity (“Who is getting interrupted?”). The authors provide helpful advice on how to get past one’s misgivings and get started as an ally, deploy privilege appropriately by realizing its limitations for other people (such as how women of color might not feel comfortable adopting a white male’s brashness), and advocate for women at both the individual and organizational levels. Smith and Johnson also walk the walk—almost all their quotes are from women. The direct and useful advice should make this an obvious choice for men who appreciate the book’s central message: “You can do more.” (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Lost Animals: Extinct, Endangered, and Rediscovered Species

John Whitfield. Smithsonian, $35 (224p) ISBN 978-1-58834-698-8

Science journalist Whitfield takes a flawed if intermittently appealing look at various animals that have populated Earth over its history. On the positive side, many of the book’s hundreds of images are striking. For example, there’s Titanoboa, 43 feet long and weighing over 2,425 pounds, “the largest land vertebrate of its time, the biggest snake in history, and the largest predator on Earth for 10 million years.” Elsewhere, readers will encounter Chalicotherium, a relative of horses and rhinos that was as large as an elephant and had a “head like a horse, a body like a gorilla, and claws like a sloth.” Unfortunately, the text entries for each species are rarely longer than several paragraphs and leave readers wanting to know more about the animals’ significance. The images are also marred by visually jarring pairings between animals of vastly different sizes, such as when an image of the six-inch Purgatorius, the first-known primate, appears opposite one of the eight-foot Barylambda, one of the first large mammals, without any indication of scale for either. A lackluster execution sinks the otherwise promising premise. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Liar’s Circus: A Strange and Terrifying Journey Into the Upside-Down World of Trump’s MAGA Rallies

Carl Hoffman. Custom House, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-063009-76-9

Journalist Hoffman (The Last Wild Men of Borneo) recounts his experiences at eight Trump rallies held between October 2019 and January 2020 in this vivid yet somewhat shallow sociological study. Hoffman has a keen sense for such ironies as the blaring of Village People songs “in an arena of fundamentalist Christians who thought homosexuality a sin,” and enriches his descriptions of the rallies with incisive sketches of rural American towns hollowed out by the decline of family farms and lucrative blue-collar jobs and “surrounded by lines and lines of chain stores.” Yet interviews with attendees, including a former strip club owner who’s been to nearly 60 rallies, a mortgage broker who thinks Trump is “heaven-sent,” and multiple people who subscribe to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, reveal little of substance. Hoffman also delves into the psychology of crowds, makes comparisons to Nazi Germany, rebukes the Republican establishment for its submissiveness, and holds out hope that “the end of American exceptionalism” brought about by Trump’s rise to power will provide “an opportunity for wisdom.” The result is both an intriguing portrait of a political phenomenon and a missed opportunity to go beyond the stereotypes of Trump loyalists. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Matrimony, Inc.: From Personal Ads to Swiping Right, a Story of America Looking for Love

Francesca Beauman. Pegasus, $27.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-64313-578-6

Historian Beauman (Shapely Ankle Preferr’d) analyzes American courtship rituals in this lively survey of 250 years of personal ads. Contending that these advertisements should be recognized as a crucial gauge of national modernity, Beauman examines the first known American personal ad, placed in a Boston newspaper in 1759, before focusing on the mid-19th-century “penny press”—inexpensive dailies targeted at an increasingly literate, ever-curious public. She documents the popularity of personal ads placed by Civil War soldiers, suggesting that flirtatious correspondence was a form of patriotic emotional labor as well as personal entertainment. Though some ads resulted in wedded bliss, Beauman notes, they could just as easily lead to deception, fraud, and far worse. Bigamists, con artists, and prostitutes placed and answered ads for nefarious purposes, as did Belle Gunness, the most prolific female serial killer in American history, who lured more than 40 men to their deaths on her Indiana farm. Though Beauman’s scattershot approach—she devotes just one chapter to the period between 1908 and 2020, and makes little reference to other work done on the history of courtship in America —undermines her argument about the scholarly value of personal ads, she is a companionable and witty narrator and an excellent curator of primary source material. History buffs will be entertained. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential

Wim Hof. Sounds True, $28.99 (248p) ISBN 978-1-68364-409-5

Dutch endurance athlete Hof (The Way of the Iceman) explains his method for surviving extreme conditions in this stimulating guide. To fight disease, pain, and trauma—and also improve personal health and athletic performance—humans, Hof writes, must “get back to our innermost needs.” He structures his program around “three simple, natural pillars: cold exposure, conscious breathing, and the power of the mind,” arguing that high-stress daily routines have disconnected humans from nature and led to any number of illnesses. To recover, he delves into how combining exposure to the cold with breathing exercises can engage the “mind-body connection” and allow one to sustain oneself in extreme conditions. Hof touts the program’s benefits as strengthening vascular, immune, neurological, mental and emotional health, as well as clearing “biochemical residue” (undesirable by-products of chemical reactions in the lymphatic system). Hof also shares his struggles with emotional pain (particularly in the aftermath of his wife’s suicide), and how his method helped him come to terms with that tragedy and endure. This spirited and humane guide will inspire self-help readers who are looking for a challenge. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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